SAT Essay Writing Strategies: Are You Ready?

The SAT essay is changing beginning in 2016. Here’s what you need to know about the new essay section of the test and how to prepare for it.

Important changes to the SAT essay in 2016

  • The essay will now be optional instead of required.
  • You will now have 50 minutes to write instead of just 25.
  • The essay will be given at the end of the three-hour test instead of the beginning.
  • The essay question will now require you to analyze a passage and explain how the writer proves his or her point. In the past, the essay involved developing an opinion essay.

Who should take the SAT essay test?

Female student taking a writing essay test at a deskIf you are preparing to take the SAT in 2016 or later, the essay will be optional part of the SAT so you’re probably wondering: Should I bother to take the essay section?

For students applying to competitive colleges, the answer is definitely yes. If you are a strong writer, you should also write the essay to show off your skills. Each college decides for itself whether to require the essay for admission, so be sure to check with all the schools you’re interested in before making a decision. When in doubt, it’s a good idea to write the essay anyway to avoid having to re-take the whole test.

How do you write a good SAT essay?

The new version of the essay requires clear, mistake-free writing, strong reading comprehension and the ability to form a logical argument. Here’s how to write a good SAT essay.

  • Organize your thoughts. Test scorers are looking for a traditional thesis statement. In the case of the new essay, this means stating three methods the author uses to make his or her argument in the writing passage. The classic five-paragraph essay will serve you well: an introduction with the thesis, one body paragraph to explain each point, and a conclusion.
  • Stick to the topic. Remember, this question does not ask whether you agree with the author. Focus instead on how the author makes his or her point. Is it with logical reasoning, statistics or by playing to the reader’s emotions?
  • Give examples from the reading. To prove your thesis, quote short, relevant sections of the passage and explain their importance. You must offer evidence for your answer and explain the quotes in your own words.
  • Proofread! Double-check your grammar, spelling and punctuation. Varied vocabulary is great, but be sure you are using those big words correctly.

Can you really practice SAT essay writing ahead of time?

Yes! The College Board provides a sample so you can practice at home. If your school offers AP Language and Composition, this course will teach you to analyze passages just like the ones used on the SAT. If this isn’t offered, a qualified tutor (ideally one specializing in test prep) can help you learn to dissect a reading passage and polish your writing skills before the big day.